There’s a crowd gathering in front of Western Australia’s Parliament House. It’s the Indigenous March on Parliament, and the Kimberley Land Council is protesting the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2021, something Traditional Land Owners have called a “form of cultural genocide.” Speakers rise to share their disappointment in the government for failing to involve them in the legislative process. The crowd cheers, chants, and watches. Smoke rises and billows through the air, and the entire scene is captured through the lenses of a plethora of cameras.
Alongside it all, lawyer Kim Farmer proudly watches the scene, alone, leaning on the wall that overlooks the Derbarl Yarrigan (Swan River). She’s come straight from court, and she’s wearing a black suit, a black shirt underneath embroidered with the white outline of the Aboriginal Flag. Shining on her lapel is a badge that features a Red-tailed black cockatoo. She quietly observes the proceedings.
As Farmer and I talk, people walking past recognise her, and smile. People heading to and from the protest embrace her, and they talk as old friends. The community here seems to love her, and it’s clear why.
Farmer, 55, is the daughter of Western Australian Indigenous football legend Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer. Graham Farmer was and remains one of the most prolific and highly awarded footballers of all time, playing for East Perth, West Perth, and Geelong football clubs between 1952 and 1971, and later honoured in the Australian Football Hall of Fame, the AFL team of the century, and was named as the Captain of the Indigenous Team of the Century. In recognition of his achievements, the Graham Farmer Freeway was named in his honour in 1997.
Kim Farmer was born in 1966, in the middle of Polly’s decorated career, “Well, it was just a lot of footy really, morning, noon, night,” she says. Just over two years on from her father’s passing, she describes her home as a child, and her face lights up: “He had a very good sense of humour and loved having a laugh.”
“[He] loved having a laugh.”Kim Farmer
She graduated from St Mary’s Anglican Girls School in 1981 and initially started working in hospitality, but in the years after she finished high school, she began to push herself more. “As I got older, into my early 20s, I realised education was going to be key,” she says. “I realised, I’m aspiring to do a lot more, so I had to go back to university, and my first degree was in anthropology.”
Farmer finished her degree in 1992, the same year Eddie Mabo won his High Court case that allowed for the recognition of Native Title. Her first job was with the Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority under Cedric Wyatt, father of former WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt.
The experience of working for the AAPA and a period at the Aboriginal Legal Service as a court officer led Farmer to pursue a career in law, since she saw it as her best opportunity to help First Nation’s people. Farmer started practising law and spent further time with the ALS, but eventually, she found the best way to do meaningful work was to operate as a sole practitioner, largely working in the criminal defence of Indigenous children. “A lot of criminal defence lawyers don’t really like the jurisdiction of the Children’s Court… I saw it as such an opportunity. These young people were there largely because of the dysfunction they experience… there was still hope,” she says. It’s clear to see why she values this important work.
When asked about Kim’s career and some of the hardships she has faced, her son, Cole Baxter says: “She’s been involved in that for a long time, I think when, a lot of the people she supports, her clients are Noongar folks, and Aboriginal folks and I think being an aboriginal person it’s that much more meaningful to be involved in the community.”
Farmer’s work is incredibly important, now more than ever, as movements around the country call for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised and for the legal system to value punitive measures less. These issues statistically affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders significantly more than any other group, and Farmer’s work inevitably seeks to improve outcomes for Indigenous youth
Farmer’s involvement in the legal practice and to the wider community isn’t limited to her legal defences. During the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Farmer worked with the national free legal service that allowed victims to safely tell their stories.
Not only this, but Farmer also sits on the WA Parole Board, the West Perth Football Club Board and on the board of the Polly Farmer Foundation, which was started in 1994 by her father to provide aid and development to Australian Indigenous students, by providing opportunities for academic enrichment.
Friend and co-worker in the legal profession, Stephanie Monck, principal legal officer at the Women’s Legal Service describes Farmer’s prolific career: “She was able to run her own sole practice for a number of years without any support – she was a one-man band. I’d have to say her strength and resilience has paid off.” Echoing other voices, she says: “She’s well respected within the broader community as well as the legal fraternity.”
“Her strength and resilience has paid off.”Stephanie Monck
Cole Baxter proudly echoes Monck’s praise: “She’s an accomplished person. [She] makes me want to achieve a lot in life and do so in a manner that keeps the legacy going and does it justice.”
But despite this praise, Farmer remains extraordinarily humble. “I’ve exceeded all the expectations I had for myself,” she says. But still for others, she continues to work, and to fight for the things she values.